An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 11)

M.A. Rudge

God's Holy Sanctuary: The Assembly and its Sanctity (5:1-6:11)

It may be helpful to deal with the final verses of the sixth main section of the epistle (6:1-11), with special consideration for the way in which they draw our attention to the authority, competency and responsibility of the local assembly, to preserve its sanctity.

(i) "Dare any of you..." (v.1). It required a measure of audacity and complete disregard of the assembly’s jurisdiction (sphere of authority), to take "a matter against another" before the world’s law courts.

(ii) In verse 1, the judges in the world’s law-courts are described as "the unjust" (v. 1). They are "the unjust" in relation to their lack of competency to judge matters, where they had little or no conception of the standards or principles involved. The term used for believers is saints (vv. 1, 2). Only "saints," ‘sanctified ones , were competent to deal with matters which called for a standard of justice in keeping with the standards required by the sanctity of God’s dwelling place. In verses 5,6 and 8, Paul uses the term "brethren, brother, " in order to emphasize the inconsistency of those who are within the family circle appearing in public dispute, "and that before unbelievers,,, for their decision in what were matters of faith. His choice of terms in these verses, draws attention to the fact that their conduct was audacious, inconsistent, and scandalous, and an insult to the authority, competence and dignity of the assembly.

(iii) It is "the saints" who will "judge the world" (v. 2). Did they not know that they would be associated with the Lord Jesus in world judgments, not only upon men but angels, those spirit beings who are of a higher order than man? (v. 3). Were they "unworthy, (anaxios, incapable, unsuited, unfitted) to judge the smallest matters?" The matters which they were taking to the world’s law courts were "the smallest matters" and "pertaining to this life", matters of relatively minor importance compared with the great issues with which they would be associated in the future. Paul wishes to awake within the church, the feeling of its competency and dignity by reminding it that beings of so exalted a nature shall one day be subjected to its jurisdiction. If the saints were to be involved in the judgment of such momentous matters, the comparatively small matters which they had taken before the courts, would only require those who were regarded as least competent, "least esteemed" ("little esteemed" JND), among them (v. 4). There is a touch of irony in the use of this term and the question which follows. Was there not a single "wise man" among them, not even one, who was competent to deal with such small things? (v. 5). One would have been enough!

(iv) "Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you..." (7), continues the subject with special consideration of the unrighteousness and demeaning nature of brother going to law with brother before unbelievers. "Fault" means a deterioration or deficiency, "primarily a lessening, a decrease, a diminution, denotes a loss" (W.E. Vine). Their conduct not only diminished the status of the assembly (vv. 1-6), it diminished the believers themselves and lowered the standard of Christian witness (vv. 7-11).

(v.) "Nay ye do wrong and defraud and that your brethren" (v. 8). "Defraud" has the sense, "to deprive" (7:5), conduct which disregarded the proper expectation of Christian behavior due to another brother. This point has a wide-ranging application. Here it shows that in addition to a low conception of the status and responsibility of the assembly, there was a low conception of what is due to one another in brotherly relations. How easy it is to forget the implications of the term "brethren", which Paul employs so frequently in the epistle?

(vi) "for know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God9 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (vv. 9-11). There is a continuing emphasis upon the unrighteousness of their conduct in the use of the term "the unrighteous" to describe the Gentile world to which they had formerly belonged. Their deliverance from it called for a standard of conduct befitting those who were heirs of "the kingdom of God".

It is suggested that the expression, "ye are (were) washed," should be understood as a reference to baptism, in the same sense in which it occurs in Acts 22:16, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord." This is given further confirmation by the fact that the verb "washed" is in the middle voice, which shows that it was something which they did for themselves. The other two verbs "sanctified" and "justified" are in the passive voice, where the subject is acted upon and was something done for them, and stands in contrast to baptism. The three verbs, "washed, sanctified" and "justified" are arranged in the reverse order to the normal sequence in Scripture and the order of Christian experience. This places special emphasis firstly, upon the public repudiation of their sinful past in baptism, in keeping with what had already taken place in their spiritual experience and before they became associated with the assembly at Corinth, "And such were some of you: but ye are washed..." (washed yourselves). The judicial cleansing which took place at conversion must be followed by practical adjustment and sanctification. This emphasis is in keeping with the immediate context, the assembly and its sanctity.

"And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified..." The word order, together with the different form of the verbs, emphasizes that the believers at Corinth gave evidence that they had finished with the sins listed here, when they were baptized and brought into assembly fellowship. The inclusion of "fornicators" and "adulterers" in the list (v. 9), shows that in this instance, they are viewed as distinctive sins. The reference to "adulterers" shows that God recognized previous marriages in the unsaved world, which confirms that marriage is not an exclusively Christian institution, but part of the Creator’s laws for the creation.

In 2 Cor. 7:11, Paul uses seven words to describe the way in which the Corinthian assembly acted upon the teaching of his first epistle. They had been brought to a proper understanding of the authority, competency and responsibility of the local assembly, to preserve its sanctity. Two of these words are of special interest, "what clearing of yourselves, . . .yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter." The word "clearing" is apologias, "defense," and means that they had cleared (defended) themselves against any possible charge of failing to deal with matters. "Revenge," ekdikesis, is lit. "out of justice or righteousness." The same word is used in Luke 18:3,5, "A venge," do me justice, and also in Rom. 13:4, where "the higher power," the secular authority, is "the minister of God, a revenger (or avenger) to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Discipline in the assembly is the natural fruit and necessary consequence of the Divine righteousness which must mark it. God’s nature determines the character and conduct of His house or assembly. Discipline must be exercised because it is right and because Divine justice cannot let sin go unpunished. The civil governments of the earth are Divinely appointed agents to execute God’s vengeance upon evil doers (1 Peter 2:14). In spiritual realms, as we see from 2 Cor. 7:11, the assemblies of God are similarly the Divinely appointed agents of God’s vengeance on evil doers. In this spirit and capacity the saints of the assembly had disciplined the sinner in their midst. They had acted for God and before God. (Cp. Deut. 33:21; Matt. 18:18).

At the close of this fundamentally important section of the epistle, we need to ask ourselves whether we have the same understanding and appreciation of the authority, competency and responsibility of the local assembly, and the same readiness to live and act so as to preserve its sanctity. The apostle has shown the wrong of taking matters of dispute between brethren to the world’s law courts, with their lack of competence to deal with such matters.

The remaining verses in the chapter, continue to deal with the lax attitude towards immorality at Corinth, and also form the introduction to a new section in the epistle, in which the apostle deals with the subject of Christian Liberty, in a wide-ranging setting.